Updated: Sept. 8,2020, 11:15 AM
Updated: Sept. 5, 2020, 1:45 PM
Welcome to our new contributor : Crisanta Sampang
We are proud to welcome author and filmmaker Crisanta Sampang to our pages. Sampang is best known for her book ‘Maid in Singapore’ which came out in 2005, a memoir of her life as a caregiver in Singapore. She now lives in Vancouver and continues to write as well as produce films. She has contributed to two Canadian anthologies, The Act of Writing by McGill Ryerson and 30 Women Share the Secret of Motherhood by Key Porter Books.
This is her first article for Philippine Canadian News.Com (PCN.Com)
Why do people like Strong Men?
When I say strong, we’re not talking about physical strength here. Strong men are those guys who project an image of courage, loyalty and chivalry. We have many of those in the Philippines, especially from my province of Batangas, where they’re locally called barako. Barako is loosely translated as a wild fearless bull. It’s also the name of the famous coffee produced in our province. Barako coffee, people say, is prized all over for its strength and distinctive flavour. Batangas has been historically called the cradle of heroes, and many Batanguenos had played major roles in winning the revolution against our Spanish colonizers.
Strong men are believed to be trustworthy and dependable. They’re expected to support their families and protect their country to the death. Research showed that it was an attitude brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards, along with the world’s number one macho religion, Catholicism. Propagated for three hundred years, it has thrived and grown ever since and has become part of our cultural DNA.
Back in Batangas, where I grew up with four big brothers, I remember how life in my rural town used to be. Men worked in the farms, while the women stayed home to raise the children and run the home properly. On farming-free days, the men hang out and shared drinks together, while the women continued with their regular tasks. (I’ve never questioned this until I went off to work as a nanny in Singapore in 1985. I was surprised that my Singaporean boss prepared his toddler’s milk bottle and fed him afterwards. It was a real ‘whoa’ moment.)
I was surrounded by male role models and had absorbed the various macho influences of the time. My father valued hard work, loyalty, respect for others, and bravery. In my young mind, those were very good qualities to have. One of the things he often told my brothers was that everybody deserved to be treated with respect, whatever gender or age they were. If they don’t respect you back, that’s another story. My father also taught us to never back out of a fight when we are defending something we believed in.
In Batangas, I had heard a lot of talk regarding clan feuds and family vendettas, where they said some families had lost their menfolk by getting involved in such things.
The Mayor of our town during those days was the ultimate Strong Man, a gun-toting, tough-talking, swaggering John-Wayne-type guy who regularly visited our village to shake the farmers’ hands and exchange pleasantries with them. He had no problem accepting a shot of straight gin when offered. He inspired loyalty. The people adored him. He remained Mayor of our town for many years, until I went to highschool in the city. He lost the elections when I was in my first year. I heard my teachers talk about how useless he was as mayor and that he hadn’t done much to improve the town, and that the public deserved better. I was surprised at their reaction. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it since then. I realized that a strong man persona doesn’t guarantee a politician’s ability to run the government well. Nothing much has changed since then.
Today, we have a bunch of strong men at the helm of different countries, like Donald Trump in the US, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. For better or for worse, these men have re-shaped their countries according to their personal visions. Millions have suffered the consequences, yet they still inspire unprecedented loyalty and adoration.
Two years ago, I went home to the Philippines and visited my relatives in Lipa City, Batangas. As usual, the conversations invariably involved politics. My people love talking about politics, analysing trends, rating politicians, rooting for their favourites. I was not surprised that my cousins and their families were strong DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters) people. They loved everything Duterte. He couldn’t do wrong in their eyes. Another gun-toting, tough talking, womanizing persona. Total machismo in action. According to news reports, Duterte had ordered the death of thousands in his war against drugs. His followers, which included many of my relatives, blamed the current misfortunes of the Filipinos on other politicians, and on the citizens themselves. Many of these were people whose intelligence and judgement I had previously trusted.
My relatives, unfortunately, are in the grip of a cultural influence that they have grown up in. And they were not alone. Millions of people still swear by Duterte, and if you are going to believe the press, he still enjoys an 80% approval rating among the Filipinos.
One can only hope that Filipinos realize that the Philippines needs a new leadership and not just a ‘strong man’.
About Crisanta Sampang
Crisanta Sampang worked as a maid in Singapore from 1984-1988, and like many Filipinos, left her own children behind. She started her writing career in Singapore during the same period, writing short pieces about her experiences as a maid for the Straits Times. She moved to Vancouver in 1988 under the government’s Live-in-Caregiver Program (LCP).
While working as a caregiver in the daytime, she took night courses on writing and computers and volunteered for immigrant serving groups on weekends. Her first office job involved working for a non-profit group that helped foreign domestic workers sort their labour and immigration problems. Later, she spent three years as a news researcher for CTV BC, then went back to school to learn film making at the Vancouver Film School, driven by her desire to document stories from the immigrant community that need to be told.
Sampang is currently developing a National Film Board-funded documentary about mothers, like herself, who left their home country to work as live-in caregivers in places like Canada or the Middle East, and the consequences of this decision on the children they left behind.
Sampang is also working on a feature film about the death of a Filipino Canadian dream, a Jury-Prize-winning story out of the Banff International Film Festival.
Sampang also writes for the Edmonton-based multi-cultural magazine Mill Woods Mosaic.
As well, her second book project, Maid in Vancouver, is underway.
As a writer and filmmaker, Crisanta’s number one mission is to remind Filipino women working abroad, particularly domestic workers, of their strengths and capabilities, and to always remember who they were, what they were capable of, before they chose to work in another country.
Her three daughters are now all married. Catherine lives in the US with her husband and their 8-year-old daughter. Maricel and Maricar chose to stay back in the Philippines with their families. Crisanta’s dream to unite the family in Vancouver remains on hold.